People love jib shots! But when is it appropriate to use a jib shot? And how can you maximize the effect of your jib work? The guys at Still Motion have written a great post on when and when not to use a jib in your production. They go over how jibs affect production value and perspective, in both good and bad ways. You can also check out their excellent work in the mini-doc below.
Whenever we are looking at camera movement, we start with one fundamental idea: how you move your camera is how you move your audience. You can make your audience feel steady and still with a tripod or you make them feel energetic by adding a steadicam and running alongside your characters. so with that, what does a crane or jib add to your story?
When we think of a crane move, most people first think of the vertical rise or fall, which is definitely a strong move and a big part of what a crane can offer, but it can also do so much more. Here are a couple of the biggest storytelling implications when you use a crane:
The giant sweeping moves of a crane or jib add a certain level of production value. What does production value mean? The moves are generally less common on smaller shoots than something like a tripod or dolly, and so adding in super smooth sweeping shots makes the production feel more expensive, produced or higher end.
Now when it comes to story, that can be a good or bad thing depending on what you are trying to say. If you are shooting a commercial for a well known large brand, using a crane can help the look and feel of the piece match the image or brand of the company. If you are shooting a smaller shop and trying to put together an intimate story of what they are about, a crane might be too grand or too strong for their story and it could pull the viewer out. As much as we constantly try to make our stories stronger, we need to be careful not to overproduce stories that call and need simplicity. For our weddings, for example, we have very rarely used a crane because the shots have so much weight to them and feel so grand and produced that it can take away from the intimacy of the story. We’ve used a crane to add production value in shooting spots for Callaway Golf (see the piece on Morgan Pressel below).
One way to get a unique perspective on a scene is to use an overhead shot. A crane allows you to get much higher perspective than we are used to and allows the viewer to to look in on a scene. This perspective can be a great way to show context or it might be to remove your audience from the scene. Whether this adds to your story definitely comes down to what your story is about. In the Morgan Pressel piece, we used the Kessler KC-12 to give us a direct overhead of Morgan teeing off. There was a lot to be said about the precision of her swing and we wanted to dissect that through a series of strong compositions from different perspectives. There are other ways to get direct over head shots, but a crane is often the safest and one of the most precise.
A very powerful use of a crane is to change perspectives within the same shot. Say you are shooting an Olympic commercial with a diver. You want to convey the grandness of the Olympics and the power and tension in the moment right before they stand on the diving board. An easy option would be to shoot them approaching the diving board and then cut to a really wide shot of the entire area with thousands of screaming fans. The challenge is that something is lost in that cut, we drop the viewer into the intensity, we don’t slowly ease them in. If we were looking at this with a crane we could start in close, perhaps over the shoulder. Then, as the diver approaches the diving board, we pull the crane backwards and up in the air to start revealing just how big the space is and how many people are there.
These are just some of the ways you can use a crane to add to your story. As with any tool, remember that there is a big distinction about how you use it. A crane can be used to offer static or subtle shots just as much as they offer the epic sweeping moves. How you move the crane and the speed at which you move it all contribute to what it says and what it adds to your story.